“Laws control the lesser man. Right conduct controls the greater.”― Mark Twain
There is no law that says you must be an honest person, but there are laws that will punish you when you are dishonest in certain situations. The question I come away with after seeing Twain’s quote, though, is Why do people need a law to keep them honest? Are they lesser people who only choose to be honest when they know their dishonesty will be punished? Shouldn’t right conduct be an appropriate expectation of human nature? I want to be the greater, I want to conduct myself rightly in my dealings, not because of any law, but because of the person I want to be. And yet, each of us falls short of our own expectations at one time or another in our conduct.
Albert Einstein said “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.” I ask myself How have I influenced others? What example am I setting? Specifically, how have I influenced the next generation? These are things that matter to me, and I believe they matter to you, too.
Thinking of Einstein’s words in relation to the stories we hear of adults making poor choices, we recognize that their lapses in judgment are the examples influencing others. We hear stories that shock us and make us angry, especially when young people are negatively impacted. We condemn and discuss with others the poor examples being set. In our choice to tear apart those individuals, we, too, are setting an example that will assuredly influence others. In the right spirit of discussion, though, the examples can be tools to teach integrity to the next generation, by the offended and the offenders.
Be horrified. Be angry. Be shocked. Be forgiving. Be compassionate. Be changed.
Living in the society we live in, many humans, for some reason, need to feel superior to those whose mistakes are larger, more visible, more costly than their own. If all you do is spend your time celebrating the failings of another (and it is celebrating when you spend enormous amounts of time and energy talking about them), then you aren’t growing in your own right. While we always expect to learn from our own mistakes, we should plan to also learn from the mistakes of others, as well. Their mistakes are our free lessons.
Pat Summitt, former basketball coach for the University of Tennessee, once said “Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership. And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.” When our judgment is clouded, we must demand that others on our team hold us accountable. My team is my family and a few close friends. Pick your team, expect the best from each other.
Any of us, when we least expect it, might make a choice that seems unsuited for the character we have typically displayed. If poor choices, especially those impacting other people, are overlooked or explained away, choices won’t change. When choices are punished, it is painful, and yet is also an opportunity to grow, to learn, to be better. It is simply a matter of being held accountable. Accountability is necessary if a leader wishes to be a better leader.
I remember reading the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, in which an emperor is told the clothes made for him are so grand and special that if a person weren’t wise enough and of good standing, they wouldn’t be able to see the beautiful clothes. Not wanting to let anyone think he was inferior, the emperor went on and on about how magnificent his new clothes were, when in fact he was naked. As he was paraded through the streets in his ‘new clothes’, the onlookers all pretended they, too, could see his clothes. No one wanted to appear to be the one unworthy of being able to see what they assumed was the truth. Finally, a child, naive to the thinking, yelled “He isn’t wearing anything at all!” If we stand silently watching the emperors in our life parade around in attire that isn’t fitting, we fail. We have a responsibility to speak up and hold them accountable. When we are the emperor, we should hope another would be so kind to us, as well.
You see, we do no one any favors by letting them think bad choices are ok. We grow and become better leaders and people when we know truth and follow it. Don’t wait around for laws to control you, let your right conduct make you greater.